Where was I? The days have started to meld into each other, like the coats of white on white paint that we cover the toilet block with. This is not the most interesting work but we start early while the temperature is still in the early 20s which makes the work more bearable, as does painting inside the of the toilet where you are shaded from the sun. I have never looked down as many toilet holes as I did in Gambia, somewhat ironic as my mother will tell you I’m a little bit anal about loos lol.
The school is growing taller and taller, layers of bricks being laid by the experts, who are mainly men with the occasional wife/ girlfriend helping out. There comes a point where everyone has to help make cement. This is absolutely back breaking work, its about 36 degrees and the cement has to be mixed by hand with cartons of water that need to be collected from a well. There are elements of building that are similar to baking a cake I mused post shovel, my heart racing as I sat inelegantly in the shade; the cement needs to be blended to the right consistency. Doing this work in the heat has given a few of the boys sunstroke and our numbers dwindle as the following morning several of them are unable to work. Luckily we have several nurses in our midst to look after them and I have to say this eases my mind, though as of yet I have not got the dreaded Banjul belly, though I know Howard has been suffering.
The heat continues to pound down and I am glad when Howard suggests going down to help out at the head builder Paul’s compound where the carpenters and other volunteers are creating the tables and chairs. As in London, Howard strides ahead and I am too hot to try and catch him up but at that moment compare walking through the head height grasses and bushes to our usual fast walk to the tube which is quite surreal.
I can’t remember what exactly I did to help out that afternoon but remember being enchanted to be there, sitting in the shade watching the desks being assembled, whilst in the garden, baby goat kids roamed free, sleeping in the shade of the house and chickens roamed around with their chicks, the occasional crow of a cockerel punctuating the drilling and sawing noises. I am too shy to speak to the ladies and children but Karen, one of the volunteers has no fear and introduces herself and learns all the children’s names. As the days progress, it becomes clear that Karen absolutely loves the children and showers them with minties (sweets), smiles and hugs, dancing with them in the street when we visit Francis’s bar later in the week.
On Sunday we went to St Kizitos Church. We arrived early and were entertained by the chirruping of the housemartins and sparrows in the eaves of the church. There is a constant stream of sound here, or so it feels to me the Londoner. We squish on our pew where we have a excellent view of the choir, we are told they are excellent and I am looking forward to hearing them sing. The old school adage of Sunday best definitely applies here, the ladies of the choir are dressed to impress and everyone else i’m guessing is dressed in their sunday finest. I am a little uneasy wearing my work clothes but comfort myself by thinking that we are going straight to work afterwards- old habits die hard! The mass is a Catholic one and I find myself musing over going to church on sundays as a child; I find certain refrains just come to my lips, all those years of Catholic schooling coming to the fore I guess; my mind wandering to how many people find a partner in church- makes sense given that you know that the person is of the right faith. I start when I hear the tick Oirish brogue of the priest, it makes me chuckle to think of him speaking the word of God to the Gambians in English with the strongest Irish accent ever! I have to mention the spiders- when we arrived we were looking around and to the side of where we were sitting there were two huge spiders the size of my hand span. Everything is larger in Africa!
I also got shat on by one of the lovely chirruping birds during the mass. Moving on from the wildlife… There was a moment in church when I noticed Sophie’s eyes fill with tears as the choir sang, and as quick as a flash I felt a well of emotion arise in my chest, as I realised how wonderful it was to be there and how grateful I was. I had to quell that feeling quickly, knowing how prone to tears I can be in general! The rest of the mass passed and we left in a wave of colour.
That night we go to Bini’s again for the most amazing Sunday roast dinner, turns out the chef was trained in glamourous Birmingham. I have to say it again, we did eat really well in Gambia, the highlights being the meat domoda (satay) and chicken yassa that Josephine cooked for us but also this particular sunday dinner and our last night where there was a Gambian/ Lebanese infusion buffet. There was an interesting evening when we went for Chinese, a slight comedy of errors when it turns out Tracey forgot her husband’s order; sesame toast turns out to be tempura prawns and Howard and others have to leave most of their main courses due to feeling ill.
Its hard and yet easy to believe that this time last week I was in the Gambia, time flies when you are having fun. I am aware that there is still lots to write about so will continue at the weekend.
Today I am grateful for being able to buy a new painting for my bedroom and also contribute to a friend’s India trip at the same.